PHILADELPHIA ― Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is strongly opposed to voting on the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the lame-duck session of Congress later this year, he told The Huffington Post.
President Barack Obama is well aware of his opposition, Reid said Wednesday, but he added there is still a possibility the controversial trade deal could come up.
Ratifying the TPP in a lame-duck session ― which is the period after the election but before the new Congress is sworn in ― would be a major thumb in the eye of the public, but it wouldn’t be an unusual move: Lame-duck sessions are often used to implement corporate-friendly policies that the public broadly opposes.
The TPP has, against all odds, become a high-profile issue in both the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns, taking on a symbolic role that arguably outpaces its real-world significance. Anti-TPP signs are everywhere inside the Democrats’ convention hall in Philadelphia, and GOP nominee Donald Trump has made opposition to the deal a cornerstone of his campaign.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, pushed hard on the issue by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), now says she is against the agreement in its current form, though her critics on both the left and right presume that opposition is temporary. Earlier this week, her good friend Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, blurted out that Clinton would flip again and support TPP after she won the White House. (He later walked that back, of course.)
Reid said that his opposition to TPP is in line with his longstanding position of international trade deals.
“As a boy, as a young man, it wasn’t until I was in college that I realized my dreams of being an athlete were gone,” said Reid, beginning a Reid-esque yarn that would eventually get to TPP. “I wasn’t big enough, fast enough or good enough. I wanted to roam centerfield at Yankee Stadium or see how many touchdowns I could score. I wanted to hold some records as being a great athlete. Those are all gone. But there is one record that will never be broken. Never. And that’s this: I have voted against more trade bills than anybody in the history of the country, and nobody will beat my record. So that’s how I feel about TPP.”
For those wondering what his actual record is, Reid’s office produced the roll call on 15 trade deals, each of which the senator voted against. They are NAFTA; the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act; the 2000 Trade and Development Act; the establishment of permanent normal trade relations with China; the 2002 extension of the Andean Trade Preference Act; free trade agreements with Singapore, Chile, Australia, Morocco, the Dominican Republic-Central America, Oman and South Korea; and trade promotion agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia.
Reid said that during his tenure as Democratic leader, he has taken a lot of body blows to defend Obama, but not this time.
“President Obama knows that. He knows I wouldn’t bring it up while I was the leader, and he knows I don’t like it. Now, I’ve taken a lot of bullets for President Obama, and he’s taken a few for me. And I get that. But this trade thing, I’m going to keep right where I am. If it is brought up, I will only add to my unbreakable record.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also said this week that she’s strongly opposed to TPP.
The Pacific pact is often referred to as a “free trade” deal, but it’s better understood as a corporate harmonization program. Very few significant tariffs are left in the global economy, but countries still have different stances on patent protection for pharmaceuticals, tax policy, the role of regulation, etc. On the one hand, it would make sense ― and it would be easier for global corporations to operate ― if the laws in various countries were harmonized. The problem comes when the companies are essentially allowed to write those laws themselves, as they have done with TPP. The predictable result is that the new regime would heavily favor corporate power over sovereign state power, and wealth would be redistributed up the scale, particularly in the area of drugmaker profits.
Most worrying for opponents of the deal, TPP establishes an investor-state dispute resolution system, which means that companies that feel aggrieved by a certain law ― say, a tax increase on tobacco products ― can sue the relevant country in an international court. The system basically elevates a corporation’s desire to operate free from regulation or taxation to the level of a human right ― the only difference being that this right could actually be enforced.
That said, the U.S. has traditionally resolved investor-state disputes in foreign countries by staging a coup and installing a friendlier government. So maybe TPP represents progress after all.